During the regular meeting of the RMC board, hospital CEO David McCormack said changes made to the emergency room in October have been successful by cutting down wait times for patients considerably. The changes have prepared the emergency room for increased patient volume from major health care expansion policies that begin in January as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, McCormack said.
"We have realigned the staff and the results have been significant," McCormack said. "Fortunately what we've done is working."
McCormack said that since October, emergency room visits for significant or life-threatening injuries have decreased to 2 hours from 3 hours, on average. In addition, the time for lesser emergency room visits, such as treatment for the flu, has dropped to an average of 20 minutes from 30 minutes, he said.
McCormack said that while hospital staff is always looking for ways to improve, the changes to the emergency room were needed to better handle impending patient increases through the ACA. On Jan. 1, insurance coverage begins for Alabamians who have bought health care through the state's federally managed insurance exchange. The exchanges were created through the ACA as a way to offer low-cost insurance mainly to people who previously could not afford it. The exchanges offer various plans through private insurers that will be federally subsidized by tax credits.
"When the ACA expansion begins, we wanted to be as ready and be as efficient as we possibly could," McCormack said.
McCormack said hospital staff researched the matter for months before developing a new process. Part of the change included hiring around 10 emergency medical technicians who all take turns managing the front desk at the emergency room. Previously, a secretary managed the desk, McCormack said.
"The EMTs can assess you quicker and decide if you need to go to the main emergency room or urgent care," McCormack said.
In addition, an urgent care room was established next to the main emergency room, which helps cut down on wait times, McCormack said. Previously, all emergency room visits, even if for minor injuries, were filtered into the same room, meaning there could be times when there was insufficient space for serious cases. Now, minor cases are sent to the urgent care room, freeing up more space and cutting wait time in the main emergency room for heart attack patients and other life-threatening cases.
Also during the meeting, the board learned part of RMC's fourth floor will soon be converted into a new Intensive Care Unit waiting room. Joe Weaver, COO for RMC, said the renovations will cost $150,000 and $175,000, will begin in January and probably take up to 90 days to complete. Weaver said an internal department was moved to another area of the hospital to make space for the planned 2,500-square-foot waiting room.
Weaver said the waiting room was necessary to provide more space for families of ICU patients.
"This new room will be two-and-a-half times the size of the current waiting room," Weaver said. "We want to make sure that even though a lot of families' experiences might not be comfortable from a clinical standpoint, we want to make them as comfortable as we can."
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.